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DVD SAVANT

Savant Reviews:

Marilyn Monroe
The Diamond Collection 2

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

You can also read Savant's review of the first Fox Marilyn Monroe Boxed Set.

The second boxed set of Marilyn Monroe's 20th Century Fox features has come out, a Diamond Collection 2 that wraps up the rest of her starring roles for the studio, as well as one very good comedy where she's just in for support. Although none of these contain her iconic or best performances, each is a fascinating piece of MM history - roles charting sometimes-awkward attempts to graduate to full dramatic stardom, with varying degrees of success. And they also show how Fox attempted to package and re-package MM as a star by shifting her from genre to genre, and trying her out with a number of directors.


Don't Bother to Knock
Fox Home Video
1952 / b&w / 1:37 flat full frame / 76 m.
Starring Marilyn Monroe, Richard Widmark, Marilyn Monroe, Anne Bancroft, Donna Corcoran, Jeanne Cagney, Lurene Tuttle, Elisha Cook Jr., Jim Backus, Verna Felton, Willis Bouchey
Cinematography Lucien Ballard
Art Directors Richard Irvine, Lyle Wheeler
Film Editor George A. Gittens
Written by Daniel Taradash from a novel by Charlotte Armstrong
Produced by Julian Blaustein
Directed by Roy (Ward) Baker

Synopsis:

An older New York hotel. Flyer Jed Towers (Richard Widmark) arrives to find out why his singer girlfriend Lyn Lesley (Anne Bancroft) is calling off their romance. Incensed when she criticizes him as too cold, Jed retires to his room, but strikes up a flirtation with a blonde he sees in a window across the way. He invites himself over to her room, thinking her a fast conquest, but is soon neck deep in trouble: Nell Forbes (Monroe) is actually a babysitter who's seriously unbalanced - wearing the jewelry and clothing of the woman whose child she is minding. Nell has been released from the asylum too soon, and is dangerous.

Something of a strange misfire, Don't Bother to Knock's trailer sells MM as a sexually wanton harlot, luring Richard Widmark into her lurid clutches. What it really is, is a confused predecessor to the deranged psychopaths that would soon dominate horror thrillers. Perhaps Marilyn's demented babysitter, tormenting and tying up helpless moppet Bunny (Donna Corcoran), is Bette Davis' The Nanny at an earlier age?

Psychologically, Knock is not bad, as it doesn't soak its plot in half-baked Freud, and credibly points out the source of Nell Forbes' dementia as the result of melancholia over a boyfriend lost in a plane crash. But the emotional thread tying her to Richard Widmark (he's a flyer too, so she latches onto him in a fantasy crush) doesn't connect with Widmark's rocky relationship with Anne Bancroft. Widmark has a temper and talks tough, so Anne doesn't understand him. He leaps at the chance to play bellboy with MM, but then reveals himself as an emotional softie who only wants the best for everyone, adores children and elevator drivers, etc. His lust for Nell transforms into paternalistic concern, thus sidestepping all the sex in the advertising sell.

Marilyn plays the role of the irrational babysitter as well as can be expected. Her mood swings from tearful come-on, to dangerous rage aren't credible, but the movie isn't trying for natural realism. At her most extreme, she basically manages the same pop-eyed stare Billy Wilder coaxed out of her in The Seven Year Itch, when she pantomimed a reaction to seeing the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Knock's shocking idea that a babysitter might threaten her charge with a push from a high window, or bind and gag her when she becomes an inconvenience, no longer seems very perverse. The weird thing is that everyone else in the hotel, from the switchboard operator to the nosy guests, care so much. I want to live in a world where everyone's so concerned with looking out for each other. Seeing Anne Bancroft's new appreciation for Widmark is something of a strange step - we were expecting jealous fireworks, or at least a scene of misunderstanding. If my girlfriend or wife caught me with Marilyn Monroe, in any circumstances, a warm smile wouldn't be her first reaction.

This time, Fox concocts a modest production with lots of support for their budding actress. Solid players like Elisha Cook Jr. and Lurene Tuttle add to the credibility. Kid Donna Corcoran looks too old to be so baby-ish, and isn't given much to do. If Marilyn Monroe was groomed to replace Betty Grable, so it seems Anne Bancroft was being positioned to compete with Ava Gardner, whose hairstyle and general appearance she's been shoehorned into imitating. Ms. Bancroft wouldn't be given a real chance to really act for a full decade.

At a short 76 minutes, Don't Bother to Knock shows signs of being a troubled project, but most of it plays smoothly. Director Roy Baker is England's Roy Ward Baker, later the name behind A Night to Remember and various Hammer films.

Note: Disc quality remarks at bottom.



Monkey Business
Fox Home Video
1952 / b&w / 1:37 flat full frame / 97 m.
Starring Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Charles Coburn, Hugh Marlowe, Robert Cornthwaite, Larry Keating, Douglas Spencer, George Winslow, Harry Carey Jr., Olive Carey, Kathleen Freeman
Cinematography Milton Krasner
Art directors George Patrick, Lyle R. Wheeler
Film Editor William B. Murphy
Original Music Leigh Harline
Written by Harry Segall, Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer and I.A.L. Diamond
Produced by Sol C. Siegel
Directed by Howard Hawks

Synopsis:

Absent-minded scientist Barnaby Fulton (Cary Grant) and his wife Edwina (Ginger Rogers) are settling into middle age, when his experiments with vitality result in a rejuvenation formula. Unfortunately, Barnaby doesn't know he's succeeded, because a lab chimpanzee has done the final mixing of ingredients by accident, and dumped the dose in the lab water cooler. After he takes a drink, Barnaby's eyesight improves, along with his attitude: like a teenager, he takes an immediate interest in fast cars, silly pranks, and the office secretary, Lois (Marilyn Monroe).

Marilyn has but a small part in Monkey Business, a very amusing comedy where she's a cartoon-like front office cutie for lab chief Charles Coburn. She gets pinched, and chased around the test tubes by a bunch of lab-coated hooligan scientists, and is really in the picture to provide some a sexy threat to Ginger Rogers.

As in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, there are some pretty audacious verbal jokes. Caught examining Monroe's leg, because she's wearing some experimental synthetic stockings, Grant says, "Miss Lois was just showing me her acetates." Excitedly looking at a sports car, he offers, "I wish it had a beaver tail!", and Monroe shows up in the very next shot.

The show's obviously been included in this grouping because it's so much fun. It's especially interesting as a Howard Hawks movie - beyond the obvious similarity of the Cary Grant character to Hawk's own Bringing Up Baby. Critic Robin Wood wrote a compelling book on the director back in the late '60s, where he related Monkey Business to almost all of Hawks' recurring themes. The scientists are a typical Hawks male professional unit, like the fliers in Only Angels Have Wings or the professors in Ball of Fire, pros with a goal to achieve. But, thanks to Barnaby's chimp, they fall prey to the 'lure of irresponsibility' that in the more serious films requires the Hawks male unit to live by a code. Wood makes a great case for Monkey Business being a close cousin to, of all films, Scarface. Paul Muni's gangster seems to revert to a monkey-like Hyde character in that picture, and here Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers become physical and spiritual adolescents. The fun is in watching Cary Grant leer at hot-number Monroe, whose costume is more revealing even than ususal. Too bad he didn't catch her.

Fantasy fans claim Monkey Business as a science fiction film. The scientists in Grant's lab are comprised of the same actors from Hawks' The Thing of the year before, and a case can be made that the picture is a more coherent attempt at basically the same theme in Ken Russell's Altered States, 28 years later.



Niagara
Fox Home Entertainment
1953 / Color / 1:37 / 92 min.
Starring Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, Casey Adams, Denis O'Dea, Richard Allan, Don Wilson, Lurene Tuttle
Cinematography Joe MacDonald
Art Direction Maurice Ransford, Lyle R. Wheeler
Film Editor Barbara McLean
Original Music Sol Kaplan
Written by Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch, story by Richard L. Breen
Produced by Charles Brackett
Directed by Henry Hathaway

Synopsis:

Honeymooners Polly and Ray Cutler (Jean Peters and Casey Adams) are enjoying a belated Niagara falls Honeymoon, until they become involved in the noirish misery of the couple in the bungalow next door: George Loomis (Joseph Cotten) is insanely jealous of his floozie wife Rose (Monroe), a knockout mantrap with a boyfriend on the side. Polly is drawn to the melancholy George, which is a bad idea as the whole situation is about to turn homicidal.

And now for Something Completely different, someone at Fox must have said. They had a star who sold plenty of tickets, but there was the problem of how to showcase Marilyn when few had faith in her as an actress. The answer was glorified supporting roles. Niagara is structured like Don't Bother to Knock, with Fox starlet Jean Peters really playing the main part, and Marilyn relegated to marquee bait. Here she's a mysterious mankiller barely in control of her own sexuality, who 'drives' her equally disturbed husband to dire criminal acts. Dressed up in Technicolor, and sold with an embarassing ad campaign that compared MM's sexual capacity with Niagara Falls, this would-be disaster is a well-directed, moody Film Noir that shows plodding director Henry Hathaway in a very good light. It even gets away with devoting a good twenty minutes of its running time, to travelog material on the upstate New York honeymoon destination.

The dramatics at the Rainbow Cabins are on the heavy-handed side, with wayward wife Monroe strutting her stuff in a dress about which Jean Peters offers the famous double-entendre remark, 'For a dress like that you have to start laying plans when you're about thirteen." MM waxes emotional over the gloppy love song on the record player, but plays tough with chain-smoking, embittered Joe Cotten. He's yet another noir loser damaged by hard luck, this time with the implied complication of impotence.  2

As in countless Noirs, Monroe is party to a criminal doublecross that doesn't work out in her favor. It may be the result of good design or storyboarding, but there are several very arresting Hitchcock - like suspense scenes, at least on first view. When Cotten stalks Monroe in a clock tower, special effects and exaggerated lighting create a very strange atmosphere of heightened menace. The ending setpiece openly apes Hitchcock, with its unlikely action squeezed into the story to provide a spectacular (and effects-heavy) over-the-falls finale. It was needed to keep the audience happy, considering the fact that MM had departed the plot almost 30 minutes before.

Again, another very successful film that mined Monroe's sex appeal, in a story carried by others. No wonder she was never happy with her Hollywood work, and sought to expand her range as a serious actress.



River of No Return
Fox Home Video
1954 / color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 91m.
Starring Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum, Rory Calhoun, Tommy Rettig, Murvyn Vye, Douglas Spencer
Cinematography Joseph La Shelle
Art directors Addison Hehr, Lyle Wheeler
Film Editor Louis Loeffler
Original Music Cyril J. Mockridge, Lionel Newman
Written by Frank Fenton from a story by Louis Lantz
Produced by Stanley Rubin
Directed by Otto Preminger

Synopsis:

Gold rush times in the Northwest. No-good gambler Harry Weston (Rory Calhoun) steals the only rifle and only horse of farmer Matt Calder (Robert Mitchum) and his son Mark (Tommy Rettig), leaving them defenseless. But his songbird girlfriend Kay Weston (Marilyn) stays behind to make amends. Facing an Indian uprising, the trio must escape down a raging river by raft. Is Kay the gal for Matt, as Mark believes? Or is she the no-good tramp Matt thinks she is?

What do you do with a Hollywood rebel actress, one who balks at the scripts she's given and is already proving to be a problem showing up on time or learning lines? Give her the leading role with a Hollywood rebel actor, in a Western (how do you mess up a Western?), and hire the town's toughest dictator director to keep her in line. Oh, and make this a Technicolor spectacular in the new CinemaScope process, too.

This must have been the key studio 'trap the star' vehicle that Marilyn really rebelled against. Written in great haste by Frank Fenton, the story has strong similarities to his Garden of Evil of the same year. Marilyn sings songs throughout, including a title tune suspiciously reminiscent of They Call the Wind Maria, while Tennessee Ernie Ford croons over the opening credits.  1 She gets manhandled by a number of men, including Mitchum, and plays second fiddle to attacking indians, rushing rapids, special effects, and the father-and-son relationship. Yes, she gets a few moments to exalt in her love of nature - she wears blue jeans, get it? - but all in all, the show is way below her potential.

As a Western production, it's exciting enough, with plenty of baddies to go around, and peculiar Indians who show up on cue to provide a generic threat, and then go to great lengths to be slaughtered by the score. Although process work abounds, Preminger did indeed get some nice footage of his stars on real locations, and his direction is solid. Like some of the other films in this collection, River of No Return's main attraction remains Monroe herself, who indeed is more romantically photogenic than all the scenery put together. Rigged though the situation may be, when she spreads herself across the 'Scope screen to sing, there's no denying that's what we've come to see.

Somewhere in the barroom scenes is Barbara Nichols, who like Sheree North was a Fox starlet seemingly developed to mimic or even replace (in their dreams) Marilyn Monroe. One wonders if her presence was a failed front-office ploy to give MM the idea that the studio was in charge.



Let's Make Love
Fox Home Entertainment
1960 / Color / 2:35 / 119 min.
Starring Marilyn Monroe, Yves Montand, Tony Randall, Frankie Vaughan, Wilfrid Hyde White
Cinematography Daniel L. Fapp
Art Direction Gene Allen, Lyle R. Wheeler
Film Editor David Bretherton
Original Music Sammy Cahn, Lionel Newman, Jimmy Van Heusen
Written by Norman Krasna and Hal Kanter
Produced by Jerry Wald
Directed by George Cukor

Synopsis:

Billionaire playboy Jean-Marc Clement (Yves Montand) visits a theater to quash plans to parody him on stage, and falls in love with performer Amanda Dell (Marilyn). But the theater people think Clement is an actor looking to play the part of Clement, and he has to keep up the deception to stay close to Amanda. From then on, Clement strives to become stage-worthy, hiring help from pros Milton Berle, Bing Crosby and Gene Kelly. He seems to be getting through to Amanda, but what happens when she finds out who he is?

Let's Make Love is a pretty dreadful movie, and shows what might have become of Marilyn had she lived - audiences rejected her in this generic-Marilyn role, and for all we know, her star might have faded as other iconic attractions took over in the '60s.

This time out, it's a poorly-conceived vehicle that takes the blame. Yves Montand is great dragging men out of pools of oil (Wages of Fear), or as a political idealist (La guerre est finie), but he just looks foolish doing light comedy or trying to sing and dance. In this picture, it's impossible to tell when he's playing a man with no talent, or just being himself. Worse yet, there's little or no chemistry between Montand and Monroe, not even the level Monroe and Laurence Olivier were able to muster in The Prince and the Showgirl. Whatever was supposedly happening between the two stars offscreen, it doesn't translate.

George Cukor's direction is polished and polite, and Marilyn's opening Cole Porter number plays great just by itself. Tony Randall does the same routine he perfected in several Doris Day movies, but comes off as kind of a Smithers to Montand's Mr. Burns. Frankie Vaughn's singing style is back in vogue again, but his is the thankless role and he just accounts for more unpleasant screen time. Of the guest stars, Milton Berle is lightly amusing, and Bing Crosby charming but impenetrable. Gene Kelly and Montand's scene goes exactly nowhere - because of the poor concept, and nothing more. Let's Make Love is late-career Marilyn, where both her best comedy and dramatic work were for United Artists.


Like the previous boxed-set Diamond Collection, each of these discs has been digitally remastered and cleaned up as if the lives of Fox executives were depending on it. Each comes with a short restoration demo that, if anything, is more detailed than necessary. The demos range from informative to puzzling. Comparing the new transfer to a flat old library copy doesn't seem very fair, and the split-screen comparison frames often show empty parts of the frame instead of the key actors. But the effort put into these DVDs is nothing to sniff at. Don't Bother to Knock apparently includes an entire replacement reel transferred from print, and the digital correction makes any mismatch with the rest of the film imperceptable.

The two B&W features look fine, but the three color titles are again far better than I've ever seen them before. River of No Return now looks like a BIG screen Western, and is very satisfying pictorially. Made in the first year of CinemaScope, it is cropped to 2:35 from its original 2:55 aspect ratio, a fact which can be noticed in the target shooting scene - even though the view is widescreen, both the shooter and the target tree branch are crowding the frame on each side! Niagara looks stunning, as does Let's Make Love, to its credit.

For Audio, Knock, Monkey and Niagara are listed as in 'English Stereo', which I think has to be a reprocessing trick. River and Love are in Dolby 4.0 .

Savant's comprehensive review of all 5 Diamond Collection 2 releases can be read at This URL.


Footnotes:

1. It's hard to tell, but it sounds as if Monroe is dubbed for a couple of the songs, yet sings for herself to little Tommy Rettig out by the river. Also, 1954 critics chided the title sequence for accurately reflecting America's attitude toward the great outdoors: Behind the song, Robert Mitchum chops down a tree and simply walks away, apparently having cut it down for no reason at all. Tree Killer!
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2. The castration idea is also reflected in Cotten's line: "I suppose she sent you to find out if I cut it off!"
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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